Sunday, August 1, 2010
World Breastfeeding Week...
Today kicks off World Breastfeeding Week. I've hinted that my policy change paper for my summer school class - Health Care Policy and Finance - was about breastfeeding. Specifically, it was about protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding and the existing state and federal laws pertaining to it.
There is so much I would love to tell you about the benefits of human breast milk and why I consider breastfeeding a health choice not a lifestyle choice. I know breastfeeding is not for everyone and that is not what my paper was about. And this posting is not meant to alienate women who do not breastfeed their children.
Rather, I feel strongly that women who do make the choice to breastfeed should be supported and allowed to nurse their baby any place they have a right to be. And in the state in which I live, there is not a law protecting my right to do so. Maybe a law is not necessary but what if I were asked to leave a public establishment because I was breastfeeding my child? What could I do?
Currently, the only state law in Idaho pertaining to breastfeeding says I can postpone jury duty due to nursing. Whereas, Vermont's breastfeeding laws include provisions that say breastfeeding should be encouraged, allowed anywhere a mother has a right to be, materials are published on the rights of breastfeeding women, and employers are to provider reasonable time for milk expression (not a bathroom), and there is to be workplace education and promotion. West Virginia is the only state without any kind of state breastfeeding law. You can see the two opposite ends of the spectrum. If you are curious what the laws are for your state, here is an excellent resource.
While some may feel breastfeeding legislation is unnecessary because it is an implied right, the La Leche League states any legislation dealing with the topic is a positive step because it recognizes its importance, and it also implies the decision to breastfeed is a health choice and not a lifestyle choice. Additionally, they state the intent of breastfeeding legislation is not to make it legal but rather to clarify that women do have the right to nurse in public and that there is no criminal offense, such as indecent exposure, involved.
So, why do I feel so strongly about breastfeeding and the support, promotion, and protection of it? Aside from these facts: Breastfeeding contributes to the health and well-being of mothers, it helps to space children, reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, increases family and national resources, is a secure way of feeding and is safe for the environment. Consider the following:
“If a new vaccine became available that could prevent one million or more child deaths a year, and that was moreover cheap, safe, administered orally, and required no cold chain, it would become an immediate public health imperative” (EU Project on Promotion of Breastfeeding in Europe, 2004, p. 9). Then consider saving $3.6 billion dollars if exclusive breastfeeding rates increased to the Healthy People 2010 goals (early postpartum period 75%, six months 50%, and at twelve months 25%). Add to this the endorsement of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association of breastfeeding being the most beneficial method to ensure the health and well being of infants.
I nursed T Rex until he was 18 months old. I probably would have gone a bit longer but I was so sick from being pregnant with T Rex Princess that I was becoming dehydrated and had to stop. I've nursed Bebe Sister (aka T Rex Princess) exclusively. I plan on continuing as long as the experience is mutually pleasant for both of us. I feel so fortunate that I have had this opportunity. It is an experience so unique - there is no other like it.
Regardless of whether you breastfeed/fed your own children or not, all I ask is that you support and encourage the women who do. There are peaks and troughs of how easy and hard it is and when a woman is experiencing one of those challenging moments, sometimes even the smallest amount of encouragement might help her make it another day, week, or month. And every little bit helps. Helps keep moms and babies healthier and decreases the overall cost to the health care system.
I welcome your thoughts - do you think there should be legislation? Why or why not? What has been your experience with breastfeeding - either as a mother or a support person? Does it make you uncomfortable when you see a woman breastfeeding in public? How do you think woman can be supported while they are breastfeeding regardless of whether it's in public or private?
(Yes, the photo, albeit not the most flattering, is of me breastfeeding at our local park while T Rex was playing on the jungle gym.)